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SPORTS: Pacers pull us back from Super Bowl's warm afterglow

February 12, 2007

Let's see now ...

The city of Indianapolis announces it is formally pursuing the 2011 Super Bowl.

Indiana University defeats second-ranked University of Wisconsin in Assembly Hall, ending the Badgers' chances of becoming the first team since IU in 1976 to go through the league unbeaten.

North Central High School's Eric Gordon goes for 43 points in a nationally televised game against a Chicago high school team featuring the two sons of Michael Jordan, who watches from the bleachers.

Butler University runs its record to 22-2 by beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Hinkle Fieldhouse and rises to 10th in the polls.

Purdue University breaks its two-yearsplus road losing streak by winning at Penn State.

The Indiana Pacers continue their hot play, winning four straight and six of seven.

And, of course, the Indianapolis Colts go down to Florida for a business trip and return home with the Lombardi Trophy, setting off a rapturous celebration the likes off which I can't recall in our city's history.

All that happened in a six-day stretch beginning Jan. 31.

I dare say, it was a pretty good time to be a Hoosier sports fan.

Unfortunately, someone had to step up and stick a pin in our fast-rising balloon.

Not surprisingly, it came courtesy of the Pacers. And for that once-proud franchise, again, the timing couldn't have been worse.

So now this.

Police reports surfaced that, in the hours following the Pacers' getting their hats handed to them by former Pacer Stephen Jackson and the Golden State Warriors, Jamal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels were involved in an altercation at a west-side club.

Yes, the same Jamal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels who participated in the infamous Club Rio incident two days into training camp last October.

You think Rick Carlisle is ready to publicly proclaim, as did the Colts'Tony Dungy, that he would be proud to have any of his players as his son?

What makes me so sad is that I, and so many others in Indianapolis, still consider the Pacers our "Indianapolis original" in the realm of professional sports.

While there's no question the Colts'Super Bowl victory is as large as anything that has happened in our sports history, I have steadfastly reminded any and all of the Pacers' incredibly important role.

Remember, it was those three ABA championships and the Pacers' popularity that served as the catalyst for the building of Market Square Arena, which in turn served as the catalyst for downtown development, which served as the catalyst for building the Hoosier Dome-which served as the catalyst for attracting the Colts.

At the same time, many have short memories if they can't recall the electrifying buzz that overtook the city during the Pacer playoff runs beginning in 1994 and continuing through 2000. I know we're all caught up in the moment with the Colts, but it wasn't all that different.

And, not unlike now, the Pacers' ascent came at a time when the Colts were playing poorly and facing their own off-field issues. But now this. I was encouraged that the Pacers were beginning to play better, that Jackson had been dealt away, along with the popular but ego-centric Al Harrington and Sarunas Jacikevicius, who had turned into a pouter. Even Tinsley-on the court, anyway-seemed to have turned the corner. But, as they say, perhaps this is another instance where the leopard hasn't changed its spots. As I was driving home from the Colts' celebration Feb. 5, reveling in the community euphoria, I turned on the Pacers' broadcast. Golden State was hammering the locals and, according to the tone and scene being set by Mark Boyle and Slick Leonard, Tinsley was in another of his punkish funks (my words, not theirs).

And now this.

As this is being written, facts still are being gathered, statements are being taken, and no arrests have been made. While I fear otherwise, perhaps all is not as it appears.

But if things are as I fear, what a slap in the face to all involved with the Pacers who are doing everything possible to resurrect the legacy and make the franchise one that brings as much pride and feel-good to the community as the Colts have done.

All those positive vibes. One of the most significant stretches in our city's history. A chance for the Pacers to ride the wave.

And now this.

Glad and sad are never far apart.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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